Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
New Year’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. It’s a Marian feast day, it falls during the celebrations of the Christmas season, and it marks the start of a brand new calendar year. Whether or not I write a detailed list of resolutions, I always use this day as an opportunity to get things in order so that the new year starts off smoothly. Some of these undertakings have been dramatically unsuccessful (tip: check the weather forecast before deciding to clean out your entire garage in early January), but others turned out to be everything I’d hoped they’d be: simple, practical actions that had a lasting impact on my whole year. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Set up a good calendaring system (or optimize the one you already use): Utilizing all the features of my online calendar has brought a surprising amount of peace to my life. I use Google Calendar, which is synced to my Gmail account, and the following features have helped streamline the schedule management for our family of seven:
- Calendar sharing: Being able to view my husband’s calendar with one click of a button—and then turn it off when I want to see only my events—has made planning our weeks a breeze.
- Auto Reminders: When I add an item to my calendar, I often set up an email reminder to be sent to me a couple of hours before the event. I can’t tell you how many times seeing a note arrive in my inbox that says something like “Soccer practice - Our turn to bring snacks!” has saved me from an embarrassing slip-up.
- Mobile integration: Being able to add something to my calendar from my smartphone lets me get events noted immediately—no more writing reminders on my hand (yes, I really used to do that).
- Event lists on email: In the Gmail’s Labs section, there’s a calendar gadget that will display your next few upcoming events on your email interface, so you don’t even have to open a new window to see what’s on today’s calendar.
Here’s a handy getting started video about Google Calendar if you’d like to learn more about its features (though other calendaring systems, such as Yahoo’s, are also good).
2. Add feast days to your calendar: No matter what type of calendar you use, it’s helpful to sit down once a year and add all the holy days of obligation, as well as feast days that are important to your family. Especially if you’re not currently celebrating the liturgical year as much as you’d like to, simply carving out time for holy days by noting them on your calendar can go a long way toward making them a part of your life.
3. Spend 15 minutes decluttering your house: Homemaking guru FlyLady recommends what she calls a “27-Fling Boogie,” where you run through your house with a trash bag and quickly collect 27 items to throw away, then get another bag and grab 27 items to give to charity. I’ve found this to be a great New Year’s Day exercise.
4. Make a list of your top three priorities, then make a list of the top three ways you’ve been spending your time: This has been a sobering exercise for me on many occasions. When I look at my list of the three things that are (supposedly) most important to me, then compare that to where I actually channel my time and energy, the results are often a much needed wakeup call.
5. Spend an hour in Adoration: If you haven’t been going to Adoration regularly, the beginning of the new year is a perfect time to make a holy hour. If your experience is anything like mine, you may find your plans change drastically after asking God what he wants from you in the next 12 months.
I’ve found every one of these to be fruitful exercises that have a lasting impact on the entire year. What are your New Year’s traditions?